“How ‘mule watchers’ evolved from a Truth Social meme into a ballot drop box patrol”

NBC News:

A black Jeep crept along Coury Avenue on Wednesday night, rolling by one of the many ballot drop boxes collecting early votes for the midterm elections. 

The driver, a man who declined to give his name, said he had made a pass at the box as part of a volunteer effort to stop a certain type of voter fraud that has captivated the far right, even though there is no evidence of its actually happening. He said it was the second night in a row he had driven by the box, this time after he had just taken his two children, who remained in the back seat, out for a sushi dinner.

He said he hoped to catch someone dropping off “100 ballots or 50 ballots.” No one did.

On Wednesday night, NBC News counted at least nine people watching the ballot drop box in Mesa, a small part of what has become a growing effort by some conservatives to monitor ballot drop boxes in hope of catching election fraud. Some people have stood watch at the drop box while wearing military-style fatigues and masks over their faces, prompting complaints to the Arizona secretary of state. NBC News did not observe any weapons.

No such drop box fraud has ever been found in significant numbers. But that has not stopped conspiracy theories about “ballot mules” — who supposedly secretly drop off hundreds of fake ballots in the middle of the night at drop boxes or election sites nationwide — from taking hold on pro-Trump parts of the internet. The conspiracy theory got its biggest boost from the widely debunked propaganda film “2,000 Mules,” which alleges such mules somehow changed the outcome of the 2020 election, even though repeated hand counts of ballots recertified the results.

The conspiracy theories have inspired action. Users on the Twitter-like platform Truth Social, which is owned by Trump Media & Technology Group, have discussed forming “mule parties” or “drop box tailgates” since at least late July, looking to organize volunteers to surveil drop boxes. On that platform, the former president’s account has shared posts by users advocating for drop box surveillance, including the Mesa drop box.

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